Exploring Social Worker Motivation and Readiness to Engage in Social Entrepreneurship
Social entrepreneurship (SE) is an increasingly popular form of macro practice in which business solutions are applied to social problems. Around the world, social entrepreneurs are embracing SE as a sustainable means of effecting social change in an otherwise unpredictable macroeconomic environment. Interestingly, social workers are largely absent from the practice and discourse of SE. Thus, these research questions emerge: (1) What drives people toward SE? (2) Why are social workers largely absent? (3) How motivated and ready are social workers to engage in SE?
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with participants (N=17) in a training program for self-identified nascent social entrepreneurs, which was coordinated by a business school at a major research university in the United States. The aim of the training program was to develop and mentor first-time social entrepreneurs toward implementing a business plan for a social venture. The research interviews lasted between 45 minutes and 1.5 hours each and were conducted by the principal investigator (who spent substantial time-in-field with participants), recorded, and professionally transcribed. The principal investigator checked all transcripts against handwritten notes to ensure accuracy, and performed data analysis by way of open coding and cross-case comparison to uncover emergent themes, with special attention paid to data from MSW degree-holders.
The data suggest that SE is currently viewed as one of the only funding options for social programs. However, social workers in the sample expressed overwhelming concern about managing the finances of social ventures as opposed to traditional nonprofits. Additionally, much hesitation was expressed by social workers over charging fees for services; data suggest that social workers are uncomfortable with the concepts of money, profits, and fee-based services. Social workers appear highly motivated to pursue SE, but lack of education in business and financial management contributes to discomfort with SE. In contrast, non-social workers expressed less ethical hesitation around earning profits. They also seemed more comfortable with business discourse and SE practice. While all participants, as nascent social entrepreneurs, expressed apprehension about how to engage in SE (e.g. how to write a business plan, work with social investors, etc.), these issues were heightened among social workers; they appeared to doubt their overall SE abilities.
Conclusions and Implications
There are limitations of this study, including small sample size and local geographical focus. Still, these data suggest that social workers may be absent from SE because they are uncomfortable with SE discourse, including the focus on profits, pricing, and so forth. The data imply that social workers, despite motivation, require substantial education and training in order to feel ready for SE. Such training could occur at social work schools. Overall, it appears that a culture shift is needed in social work such that there is more comfort with SE. Future research should more deeply examine social worker motivation and readiness for SE, the effectiveness of SE educational models for social workers, and the overall effectiveness of SE, which, admittedly, is not yet proven.